WASHINGTON DC — The American government’s Global AIDS Coordinator, Deborah Birx, says Lesotho needs to do more if the country is to win the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Dr Birx said the fact that Lesotho now has the second highest HIV-prevalence rate in the world, from the previous third position, means much more needs to be done to lower the figure from its current 23 percent.
Speaking at the Foreign Press Centre in Washington on Wednesday last week, Dr Birx said without a political leadership that understands the gravity of the situation, Lesotho would continue to perform poorly in preventing new HIV infections, while her neighbours make strides in combating the disease.
According to the last UNAIDS figures, Lesotho’s HIV-prevalence rate has remained stagnant at 23 percent but leapfrogged Botswana into second position because of the latter’s successes in lowering its prevalence rate from the previous 24.8 percent. Swaziland’s HIV-prevalence is 26 percent.
“In Lesotho, you really have a pandemic problem; there is need for more work to be done in Lesotho. Although I have never visited Lesotho, the UNAIDS Gap Report (July 2014) has shown that the country is not performing well in arresting the spread of the pandemic.
“Political leadership at every level is important and absolutely critical for controlling the pandemic. When you don’t have a leadership identifying the fight against HIV/AIDS as a real issue and talking about it openly, then you have a problem.
It even becomes a much bigger problem if it is treated with stigma and discrimination.
“You should go to the 2014 GAP Report and look at how Lesotho has done compared to other countries and how it is ranked now. Work has to be done in Lesotho through partnerships between Global Fund, UNAIDS, PEPFAR, the political leadership and civil society, for this disease to be conquered,” Dr Birx said.
Dr Birx expressed particular concerned that Lesotho had not done well regarding the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV. “The problem is we are not getting enough people onto the prevention-of-mother-to-child treatment. That means mothers are sick, and they are becoming sick, and babies are becoming sick and could die without AIDS treatment,” Dr Birx said.
“There is need for health practitioners and other stakeholders to strengthen their work on HIV/AIDS in Lesotho. We have a job to do in Lesotho and your job as the media is to keep the awareness alive.
“Hearing stories that people are tired of HIV/AIDS is something for the 80s and 90s; this is now and we still have this problem and we need all our collective efforts to end the pandemic.
“This isn’t malaria; it is not tuberculosis; right now AIDS is not curable, but there is this complacency that is settling into communities because people are now saying this disease is just like any other. But the fact is this is not like any other disease because it has no cure.”
Speaking at the same event, Thomas Kenyon, the Director for Global Health at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) also emphasized in order to strengthen the fight against HIV and AIDS, a country has to have a strong political leadership. Dr Kenyon, however, said as the CDC, it was clear there was no immediate hope for a vaccine for AIDS despite the “billions” invested in research to find its treatment across the world.
“The virus reproduces inside cells and antibodies can’t access a cell. The whole vaccine story still remains elusive,” Dr Kenyon said.
Medical male circumcision, he said, had shown it could reduce chances of HIV-infection by as much as 60 percent, and urged more such procedures as part of the defensive mechanism against the disease.
“The challenge is now to get men of sexually reproductive ages to take it up and apply it,” he said.